With any real estate transaction, finding out who is the owner of a property is a key part of your research. Perhaps you noticed an abandoned house and wish to buy it. Perhaps you want to bypass working with an agent and contact the owner directly. Or perhaps you’re a tenant who has some doubts about the landlord’s claim of ownership. Whatever the reason, here are some of the ways you can find out who the owner of a property is.
Check with the Tax Assessor
One of the easiest ways to find out who owns a property is to see who is paying taxes on it, which you can find out through the local tax assessor’s office. You can conduct this research on their official website most of the time, and will need either the address or, if the property doesn’t have one, the parcel ID.
Looking up the owner through the tax assessment will also give you access to information about the most recent appraisal, property dimensions, any tax liens, and even contact details for the owner. However, depending on the state and county, you might not find this information online, and you will have to go to the tax assessor’s office in person.
Check the County Recorder
Like the assessment rolls, deeds and title documents are publicly available, and the vast majority of U.S. counties have well organized official websites where you can look them up. Such data is often available for free, although in some cases you may be expected to pay a fee. Looking up the deeds will also help when dealing with LLC-owned properties, as you can see who signed the documents and determine who the real owner is.
Unfortunately, not all governmental websites provide the same coverage. In New York, for example, ACRIS has scanned copies of deeds going back to the 1960’s, but that isn’t the case for states such as Arkansas or Missouri.
Use Dedicated Online Resources
Tracking the owner of a property can be particularly difficult, especially if the property doesn’t have an address, which is often the case with vacant land. Or, you may come across a property that is owned by an LLC, a corporation, or a trust, which is often the case for commercial buildings. In such cases, the best course of action is conducting your research through online real estate databases. A great example would be real estate data provider PropertyShark, a website that manually researches contact information for owners behind LLCs. It also provides in-depth data for approximately 110 million properties in New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco Bay Area, and other major US markets.
There are many other options available, some offering the information for free, others in exchange for a monthly subscription. Most websites aggregate all public information available on a property, and apart from the ownership details, you can also find the parcel ID, liens history, and assessed values, without having to rely on several governmental websites.
Contact a Title Company
Given that title companies are directly involved in real estate transactions, from handling the paperwork to providing title insurance, they are often your best bet for tracking down the owner of a property. Title companies will also perform background checks to see if there are any liens or unpaid taxes on a property, which is information that you will most likely need if you’re considering buying. Their only downside is the cost, which can vary between $200 and $400, however, if you find yourself at a loss with your own research, it will be a worthwhile investment.
Ask a Real Estate Agent
Real estate agents handling other listings in the area might also help with information regarding the owner. There’s a good chance that they have already researched the property before you in search of a potential addition to their portfolio, and if you’re looking to buy, you can also hire them to help you close the deal. The only thing to bear in mind is that agents often conduct the same research as you, so before contacting one, make sure that you’ve exhausted the public sources avenue. Otherwise, a title company might be a better choice.
What can you do if the ownership information has been suppressed?
Although property ownership and history records are available to the public, you may come across cases in which no data is displayed. Such cases are quite rare, and they usually occur when homeowners make a request with their local county clerk and tax assessor offices to suppress their data, mostly due to privacy concerns. In such scenarios, tracking the owner may become problematic.
You may be tempted to talk to the neighbors, or maybe even place a letter in the owner’s mailbox directly, however, caution is advised. The owner may be part of a witness protection program, or otherwise feel threatened by your trespassing, and this may result in a lawsuit. When in doubt, talk to a lawyer about your options, and wait until, hopefully, there is an official listing for the property in question.